How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

“Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.” —St. John Paul II

James Tissot [1836-1902], “The Healing of Ten Lepers”
James Tissot [1836-1902], “The Healing of Ten Lepers” )

A devout priest once gave a beautiful homily in which he explained how cultivating a spirit of gratitude in his heart changed his life entirely. He said that at one point in his life he had decided that he would never fall asleep until he had thanked God for one thing on every single bead on his rosary. “It has been years since I made that resolution, and the fruit it has borne in my life has been amazing. It has changed my outlook on everything.”

Another priest, known far and wide for his holiness, once preached a retreat on gratitude, during which he said, “Gratitude brings us straight to the heart of God. Even if all you feel you have to thank God for is that you have two eyes instead of one, then thank him for that!”

Another woman testified to the power of gratitude when she found somewhat miraculous relief from a debilitating sleeping disorder by thanking God for blessing after blessing as she fell asleep at night. 

If we really think about it, most of us can recall numerous ways that gratitude has positively affected us and those around us. Being grateful to God is a powerful exercise; one that can lift up the faces of the downtrodden, energize the lifeless, and breathe a spirit of joy into the brokenhearted. Gratitude has an indomitable way of elevating the mind to higher things, and linking souls to supernatural grace. It helps one to surmount tremendous difficulties with ease and happiness. By being grateful, we can grow in sanctity, and draw ever closer to the Beatific Vision. And by doing so, we will draw others to life with God for all eternity as well.

As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “The best way to show your gratitude to God and people is to accept everything with joy. … We may not be able to give much but we can always give the joy that springs from a heart that is in love with God. All over the world people are hungry and thirsty for God's love. We meet that hunger by spreading joy.”  

Religious sentiments aside, scientific and psychological research continues to affirm the critical impact that gratitude can have in one's life as well. An article titled, “Science Proves Gratitude is Key to Well-Being,” which was featured in Psychology Today magazine, highlighted a study that compared the well-being of participants who kept a weekly list of things they were grateful for to participants who kept a list of things that irritated them or neutral things. In the end, the gratitude-focused participants exhibited increased well-being and the researchers concluded that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.” The article notes that, “The participants didn’t begin the study any more grateful or ungrateful than anyone else, and they didn’t change their lives during the study so that they’d have more to be thankful for. They just turned their outlook to one of gratitude, and they were happier for it.” It then explains that gratitude stimulates two important regions in our brains: the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure.

Further, “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier,” an article featured in a publication of Harvard Medical School, explains that positive psychology research reveals that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” it states. The article also states that additional studies have concluded that gratitude can improve relationships. “For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship,” it explains.

This Thanksgiving Day, we can work on fostering a spirit of gratitude, and lifting up our hearts to our most benevolent Creator, who unceasingly showers us with his gifts and graces. By embracing the grateful attitude of the saints, we can discover the face of God in the midst of our daily lives, no matter what crosses we may be carrying. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux expressed, “Prayer is an aspiration of the heart. It is a simple glance directed to Heaven. It is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy.”